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Sunday, July 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, July 19
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, July 22
Our Favorite Fictional Character
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Our Favorite Fictional Character

“[Y]ou who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (Eph. 2).

  1. Each of us is our own favorite fictional character in a story that we tell about ourselves every minute of our lives. We find this drama endlessly interesting. The story we tell inside our hearts may be preventing us from reaching our potential. It could be destroying us, or it might be the only thing keeping us alive. That interior monologue may so fill us with joy that it transforms the lives of all those around us.[1]

This week my wife Heidi gave me an early anniversary gift. She put together a thick binder with 125 letters I wrote during our courtship. They opened a window into the inner stories I told my twenty-three year old self. Back then I worried about whether I was the intellectual equal of my fellow classmates. I doubted that I would ever be able to support my family and most of all I dwelled on my parents’ opinions of me.

We spend an enormous amount of energy trying to prove that the story we tell ourselves is an accurate one. We want others to believe it and frankly we want our story to be right. Still the philosopher Martha Nussbaum says that, “we love made-up people, people we have made up to be the people we can love.”[2]

To be human means to be always in danger of creating an idyll. That is, a private and constructed reality, over and against the common social world that surrounds us. My friend and teacher Margaret Miles described her parent’s Christian fundamentalism as, “a private, carefully sheltered, unrealistic and frayed idyll.” She writes that because of all the commonsense assumptions of our shared social world, it takes incredible strength to sustain an idyll. Idylls tend to collapse not because they are illusory, but because they require an enormous amount of energy to maintain.[3]

Sometimes what seems most real isn’t. Over the past two years many of us have begun to answer the personal question, “how are you?” with a report on what the politicians are doing. Collectively we have been contributing to a shared dys-idyll nightmare which reinforces the sense that the only thing that matters happens in Washington, DC.

Perhaps the simplest definition of a Christian is a person who agrees to have her story corrected through the presence of the living Christ and the church. Prayer extracts us from the grips of our own idyll and brings us back to reality. Prayer gives us the chance to step back from this fictional character who claims all our attention so that we can see other people as children of God.

  1. Our Gospel today reports on outer events that give us a picture of what might be happening in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples. You may have noticed that verses have been excerpted out of the reading in order to fit a regular worship service. I will try to fill in what we missed (and encourage you to read them at home).

The narrative begins at a high point. After having been sent out in twos Jesus’ friends have met with remarkable success. We do not have many opportunities to see them at work apart from Jesus. They have been healing and teaching with great success and probably relish telling him their stories.

He recognizes their need for rest so they try to withdraw to a “deserted place by themselves” (Mk. 6). But the crowds follow them wherever they go. They do not even have time to eat. Rather than feeling frustrated Jesus has compassion on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for feeling compassion, splagxnizomai means the kind of love that grabs in the guts.

Jesus simply loves these sheep and so he asks his disciples to help feed them. Even after their great successes they respond with sarcasm. “Are we… to buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” After the five thousand have been fed and twelve baskets of leftovers have been collected Jesus leaves everyone to pray on a mountain alone.

He rejoins the terrified disciples on a boat in the midst of a great storm. In the calm that follows the disciples, “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mk. 6). Then Jesus returns to healing the people of Gennesaret.

A story that began with triumph and success collapses into misunderstanding and fear. Rather than working with Jesus for the sake of God’s Realm the disciples step back into passivity and fear as they watch him work alone. He has been teaching, but they seem incapable of learning. Despite the abundance, the healing, and being saved from the storm their interior monologue resists being changed.

  1. Karl Barth. Some of you remember that I have been systematically studying the life work of Karl Barth (1886-1968) a twentieth century Swiss Reformed Theologian. Between the end of World War I and his death in the 1960’s Barth wrote an incomplete thirteen volume, 9,000 page systematic approach to theological knowledge.

My primary advisors and teachers were shaped through their opposition to Barth’s ideas. My dream is that by really understanding his perspective, I will be better informed in what I believe and teach. I should mention that I have not yet met a single person who thinks this is a good idea. Finishing the fourth volume (CD II.2) I want to report on my progress.

As a Reformed theologian following in the footsteps of John Calvin, Barth values God’s sovereignty above everything else. God creates, sustains and redeems us. God, “governs and determines everything.”[4] We have no power to compel God. God can never owe us. Furthermore we have not learned to say the word “God” correctly if we speak only in abstractions as if we can stop being totally dependent on God.

For centuries reformed theologians argued that God had chosen and set apart some people from before the beginning of the world, and then they agonized over those left out of the divine plan. Karl Barth seems to have a different idea in mind. He writes that the whole gospel is about election. Jesus does not leave people out so predestination, “is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation,” but rather “a proclamation of joy.”[5]

This “love of God is His grace… It is love which is overflowing, free, unconstrained, unconditioned… It is love which is patient, not consuming the other but giving it place.”[6] For Barth, the world was created not so that we would be God’s slaves but because God desires to be the “companion of [each person]. Against our No [God] places his own Nevertheless… the creature’s opposition to [God’s] love cannot be any obstacle to [God].”[7]

We are not disinterested spectators. God’s love is not abstract, not something that we deduce from the laws of physics, but individual and personal. No believer should ever regard another’s example of unbelief as permanent.[8] Faithful people need to constantly proclaim in personal terms that those in our lives are “not rejected” by God.[9]  Jesus is the only one chosen by God, but through him all creation is made free.

Barth goes as far as to say that even Judas, the one who rejected Jesus and conspired with those who arrested him, never stopped being an apostle. We are like the disciples who experience such great things and repeatedly hear Jesus’ teaching, only through fear to fall short in understanding and faith. God’s abundance and grace is for us as it was for them.

  1. Study Hall. A while ago a friend of mine named James and I were discussing Julian Barnes novel, The Sense of an Ending. We talked about going back to the people we knew in our youth and seeing things through our adult eyes. He told me this story.

In high school study hall James met a boy who mostly kept to himself. But when the two of them started talking about music, books and philosophy it almost felt like time stopped. They became close. One Friday James gave his friend the John Knowles novel A Separate Peace and inscribed it inside the front cover.

The next Monday his friend approached him to talk, “My parents said that we can’t be friends.” And that was it. They didn’t speak again, until twenty years later when circumstances brought them together. At that time James first visited his now adult friend’s house. It was as if nothing had changed. In fact the friend’s wife kept repeating how great it was to meet someone who meant so much to her husband and that he frequently talked about his high school friend James.

So what happened back then? James always thought it was because he was African American. I wondered if the parents thought the boys were romantically interested in each other. But it was for neither reason. Last week I talked about how vulnerable children are. The friend’s parents had been in the process of splitting up. They didn’t want anyone to know and so they kept James’ friend isolated during his high school years. Only recently did James realize what his small kindness really meant. Sometimes it takes half our life for our story to be made true.

The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “I circle around God, around the primordial tower. / I’ve been circling for thousands of years / and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, / a storm, or a great song?”[10] We too circle God sometimes drawing closer to the truth in the great song of our prayer. What is your story? What do you tell yourself about the fictional character that is you?

Our story and the story of every unbeliever is not final. The disciples of Jesus hardened their hearts and resisted but ultimately God won them over. They rediscovered their power in the hope of Jesus’ message. Likewise let your story of reconciliation and forgiveness and above all your joy transform everyone you meet.

[1] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 23.

[2] Margaret recommended this book to me so many years ago and it continues to influence my understanding of emotions and reason. Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (NY: Oxford University Press, 1992) 326.

[3] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 30.

[4] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 The Doctrine of God tr. Bromiley, Campbell, Wilson, McNab, Knight, Stewart (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 7, 5.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 327.

[9] Ibid., 322.

[10] Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,” Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (NY: Riverhead Books, 1996) 48.

Thursday, July 19
Why a Rugby Evensong?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10).

A year ago when Ellen Clark King, the Cathedral’s Executive Pastor, and I heard that the World Seven’s would be in San Francisco this summer we instantly knew what we had to do. We felt compelled to host a Rugby Evensong. Since then dozens of people have asked us “What is a rugby evensong?”

I need to begin by saying something about what evensong and rugby are. Evensong has a special meaning to the global English-speaking church. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and the other originators of this tradition imagined that profound daily worship should not just be for monks and nuns. They took the monastic service and shared it with everyone.

We love how Evensong especially values harmony, beauty, simplicity and humility. It is about the daily rhythm of our life, the movement from light and security into the perils of the dark. It is about the way God blesses every moment of our day, and our life, and even our death.

At first, rugby might seem like just a game that began around the time this Cathedral was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century. At Rugby School in England William Webb Ellis famously broke the rules and picked up the ball and started running. The game that grew from that act, involves moving an oblong ball up field by passing it backwards or laterally to your teammates as opponents try to stop the ball by tackling you.

Of course there is so much more to it than this. Rugby also includes kickoffs, rucks, line outs, scrums, kicking to touch, etc. The sport involves far less individual specialization than American football or baseball. As a result its players exhibit an impressive overall athleticism that makes it unique. Everyone on the field plays defense and can score. Every player has a high level of stamina, strength, speed and agility.

Rugby is a dangerous activity. It requires physical courage. This week we will be praying for players in the tournament and around the world. We will pray that all players will use the courage they learned on the field to make our world better.

This all brings us back to our original question. Why would Grace Cathedral host what might be the world’s first Rugby Evensong? I have two answers.

First, in our mostly automated world rugby is one of the human endeavors that requires a total commitment of one’s whole self. Every player on the pitch needs to maintain complete focus physically, emotionally and mentally. This makes it a kind of metaphor for the spiritual life. At no moment do we cease to be spiritual beings. To use a phrase from William James there are no moral holidays, our actions matter.

In our gospel reading tonight Jesus asks a young man to answer his own question about inheriting eternal life. To do this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10). Just as William Webb Ellis broke the rules to create something new and beautiful Jesus asks us to do the same. We are called to love our neighbors in ways that might upset how things are usually done.

Second, rugby in my experience is unique in its culture of fellowship and unity. In our society winning has become everything. Yesterday a New York Times reporter pointed out that this naturally leads to “toxic hostility” even toward youth game referees.[1] In rugby excellence matters but there is always a higher value.

I’m grateful to have been introduced into adulthood by older rugby players and coaches who understood how important this spirit of fellowship is. In my days as a player and coach we always hosted opposing teams for meals after the game. It was a chance to celebrate and socialize. After the best game of my life I remember meeting the player who had just broken my finger. His family owned a restaurant along Highway 80 and I always think of him when I drive past there.

This week Barak Obama gave a lecture on the centenary celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth.[2] He talked about the long road from colonialism and racism to a new world of democracy and human dignity. In these times of polarization and distrust rugby is part of how we overcome the greatest challenges of our time.

In the rhythm of my life I have become old enough so that I will probably never charge down the rugby pitch to make a tackle, or leap into the air to catch a lineout or kickoff, or bury my head in the scrum. But I still dream of these things. More than ever before I have come to understand the darkness and perils of this life.

But I also have a greater appreciation for the power of humble people, for the way that simple human fellowship can drive away despair. And with every year, I grow in gratitude that through each moment God continues to preserve and nurture us.

[1] Bill Penningnton, “Parents Behaving Badly: A Youth Sports Crisis Caught on Video,” The New York Times, 18 July 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/sports/referee-parents-abuse-videos.html?emc=edit_sp_20180719&nl=sports&nlid=1350863320180719&te=1

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/17/world/africa/obama-speech-south-africa-transcript.html

Past Sermons

Sermons from the last six months are listed below. Older sermons can be heard through iTunes podcast.

Wednesday, June 20
“Who do you think you are?” A Pride Message from The Vine SF
Preacher: The Rev. Jude Harmon
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Sunday, June 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Very Rev. Alan Jones preached from notes rather than a prepared manuscript, so a text of the sermon is not available.

Sunday, June 10
Voices of Demons, Forgiveness of Sin
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3).

 

Friday at dawn I saw the world through security and body cameras on the Internet. Police surrounding an unarmed man by an elevator severely beating his head as his slack body slides down the wall. Police in Oregon punching the back of a mentally ill man’s head as he lies on the ground and screams that he is disabled.[1]

Police handcuffing a ten-year-old African American boy scaring him so much that he wets his pants.[2] I saw the video of Stephon Clark’s death in Sacramento – all those shots in the dark as police kill this young father in his own backyard.

The Spirit opened a kind of window in my heart that allowed me to imagine what it would feel like to one minute be living my ordinary life, and then suddenly descend into the abyss, to feel the full force of this humiliation, pain and horror. The Oregon man’s screamed question haunts me. “Why are you doing this?”

One of the leading causes of death among police officers is suicide. I am grateful that these days I am not in many extreme situations which would reveal my own racism, fear and brutality. Mostly my demons are just less exposed.

People don’t believe in demons these days. But perhaps this is a way to avoid facing the irrational powers from beyond ourselves, powers that possess and control us.

This week handbag designer Kate Spade and television personality Anthony Bourdain succumbed to their demons and took their own lives. I worry about other struggling souls who might follow their example. We have a connected unconscious. We do not understand certain parts of ourselves. When we look inside, sometimes we see a force that threatens to destroy us, or that takes us away from who we really are.

A few days ago I talked with a friend who has recently been released from prison. He struggles with demons of hesitancy, self-doubt and fear. He doesn’t know how to get started or even if he’s going to find a way to survive. It is not clear yet whether or not the demons will gain the upper hand.

The idea of demons may seem archaic and weird. But using this language draws our attention to a universal aspect of the human experience that modern life tends to ignore. At times our society, and we ourselves, seem to be caught in, or possessed by, dynamics beyond our control. Sometimes we recognize these forces and can name them as: defensiveness, addiction, war, family dysfunction, sexism, anger, racism, homophobia or envy. Sometimes we feel this irrational power and have no way to articulate it.

In your challenges and the struggles of people you encounter I want to share two helpful ideas from our tradition. The first concerns our relation to God and the second is about how we might understand sin.

  1. The author of Mark believes that we inhabit a dark and dangerous world. Evil can be just as much in our hearts as it is out there. He seems deeply aware that our consciousness is porous.[3] He would recognize that the evil I see on the Internet has a deep kind of hold on me.

As our gospel today begins Jesus is enjoying fabulous popularity. It’s like he woke up and suddenly had 20 million Twitter followers. People have come to see him from all over that world even from distant Idumea (Mk. 3:8). That’s 150 miles away. The crowds are cheek a jowl, huddled so closely together that Jesus and the disciples cannot even eat bread (Mk. 3:20).[4]

There are several translation issues for me in this text. The Greek word bread appears here but doesn’t make it into the English translation. Similarly the Greek text says “oi par’autou” which literally means “those with him” but appears in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as “family.” In any event, worried that he has lost his mind people with him, or his family, go to overpower him (kratos or krateo) for his own good. Words related to strength, power, ableness appear throughout this story.

The lawyers from the capitol city of Jerusalem use this occasion to charge that Jesus has not just been possessed by normal demons but by the chief demon, Beelzebul. Jesus defends himself by pointing out that healing lies at the heart of his ministry. This is the antidote to the destruction and divisiveness of the demonic. Neither a divided house nor a divided kingdom could stand. If healing were to enter Satan would literally “have his end” or come to an end. Telos the word for end the finish line of the horse-racing track. It also means goal.

Then Jesus uses an analogy that I never completely understood. He describes his mission of healing as entering a strong man’s house. To rob him, one must first bind him up. What I didn’t fully recognize before is that for Mark this world belongs to Satan. Jesus has bound him so that we might be free of the demons that afflict us.

For some evangelical Christians salvation refers to the dividing line between the godly and the godless, the people who are “saved” or “not saved.” But I have a hard time believing that this is what Jesus means. The Latin word “salvus” is not about dividing us from them. It means healing, and that is what Jesus does. In order to heal us Jesus binds up the strong man, the demons that seek to possess us.

Then comes the really remarkable thing. I don’t understand the reason for this either but the translators leave out the word “all” which occurs in the next sentence. Jesus says, “all will be forgiven of the sons of Man, their sins and the blasphemies they have blasphemed.”[5]

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) asserts that Jesus can transform our lives through his concept of a loving God. Barth writes that by God’s, “gifts [people] lived always sustained with forgiving loving-kindness.” He goes on to say that if a person really were to grasp the truth of God’s love, he or she would have, “the feeling of waking from a dream.”[6] This is what Jesus wants for us. It is how he heals us.

I wish that people really heard that line but the next almost washes it from our consciousness. This too is translated in a way that makes the truth harder to understand. It says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness in this age but is involved in an age-long sin.”

As you might gather I don’t think the point of the story is to inspire fear that we might inadvertently or intentionally commit an unforgiveable sin. I do believe Jesus wants us to take seriously the voice of God that speaks in our conscience. But this brings me to my second point which is about sin.

  1. Adam and Eve hear the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. Have you ever wondered why God calls to them saying, “Where are you” (Gen. 3)? Certainly God knows this. I think it is a little like when God says to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel,” when God knows very well that Cain murdered him (Gen. 4).[7]

The point is for the listener, for Adam, Eve, Cain, you and me to re-orient ourselves, to find our way back after having been lost. Instead of denying what we have done or blaming someone else, it is the moment to take responsibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) the theologian who was tragically killed by the Nazis shortly before the liberation of Germany puts it this way. The decisive moment for Adam and Eve is not when they decide to eat the forbidden fruit, or when they take that first bite. It is when they try to hide from God and from their true identity as God’s children. Where are you Adam? In the same way this morning God asks, “where are you?”

There are different metaphors for understanding sin. We hear most about sin as disobedience that requires forgiveness. But equally powerful is the picture of sin as an affliction that needs to be healed. There is also the idea of sin as separation calling for reconciliation. Bonhoeffer endorses this last picture of sin as a kind of alienation or division from God and our self.

This is one of the demons that Jesus casts out of our lives: the demon that says that the differences between us are more important than what we share in common. Jesus invites us to participate in this ministry of healing. He does this knowing that will be opposed by strangers, our work colleagues, friends and even our family. Our own fear of disapproval, our desire to not interfere may hold us back. But Jesus promises an even more extraordinary intimacy. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3).

In conclusion I do not know where you are, or exactly what kind of demons you encounter in your life. Jesus’ point is that we do not face these challenges alone. The strong man has been bound. In everything God will eventually prevail. We will find brothers and sisters who will help us. Jesus will not abandon us.

Let us pray: Gracious God you summon us out of the darkness of our own hearts and into the light of Jesus. Strengthen us to overcome our demons. Heal our divisions. Help us to find ourselves in you and to embrace the hope that all will be forgiven. We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=Ejf572xg02M

[2] https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Video-Shows-Chicago-Police-Handcuffing-10-Year-Old-Boy-484629641.html

[3] Again Liz and Matt Boulton’s “Sin and Salvation,” in Salt (10 June 2018) has hugely influenced this sermon at every point. If I keep borrowing at this rate I will have to name my next child after them. I always associate this idea of the porousness of our consciousness to Matt along with the salvus idea that comes later. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-third-week-after-pentecost

[4] I don’t know why translators left out the word “bread” in this verse. There are other translation issues that elude me like why are those with him referred to as his family. I should have brought my Nestle Aland home to check alternative manuscripts.

[5] I definitely have help in all these translations from D. Mark Davis, “Parables of Plunder,” Left Behind and Loving It: Living as if God’s Steadfast Love Really Does Endure Forever, 4 June 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com

[6] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part One Tr. G. W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) I.1.460.

[7] I’m especially indebted to Liz and Matt for this and for what follows.

Sunday, June 3
The Joy and Hazards of Sabbath
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“Lord, you have searched me out and known me… there is not a word on my lips but you, O Lord, know it altogether” (Ps. 139).

 

  1. At the heart of our era with its wealth and progress, lies a gaping emptiness. Despite our miraculous technologies we feel haunted by disconnection and loneliness. We have lost the capacity to wonder, to regularly experience gratitude for the gift of our life. We no longer have a sense of belonging: to each other, to creation, or God.[1]

For me the antidote to this alienation is simple. It is church. I am not embarrassed by this truth – I deeply need to worship in community every week. In my life churches have been places of healing and gratitude. In church I have the chance to experience my existence as a blessing again. In church I repent and rejoice. Most days I’m immersed in my tiny dramas. But during worship I can receive the big picture of all history, all creation.

Quite simply I keep the sabbath because it opens up a door for God to heal my soul and to empower me to be a force of good in the world. When someone is struggling spiritually, socially or emotionally I have to bite my tongue because I always want to recommend church as the solution.

My wife Heidi is a native Hawaiian and it has always been important for us to reconnect with her family and culture during the summer. I don’t often talk about it but there I’m like you, a normal person sitting in the pews at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku, Maui. Although there are some white people there the church seems predominantly Filipino, with some Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. There are tons and tons of kids. Sometimes I recognize them out in the surf lineups.

They play organ music but also have a kind of ukulele band. They constantly volunteer on projects for the poor and vulnerable. Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV were faithful Anglicans and in the 1860’s they invited the Reverend Mr. and Mrs. Whipple to found the congregation. The two had a foster daughter from the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota whose name was Clara Mokomanic.

In 1866 when this family arrived at Ma’alaea Harbor no one was there to meet them so they simply walked halfway across the island to stay at Waikapu for the night. Mokomanic played the organ and according to family lore her future husband George Mossmann helped to procure the church’s land.

Mokomanic is my wife’s great great grandmother. I feel so at home there. But if one day going to church became a reason I began to look down on others, that would subvert the whole purpose of the sabbath. That attitude would impair the very health that God gives through sabbath.

In today’s gospel Jesus points out that even the most essential religious practice can be corrupted and distorted. But before we get to that let me talk about the context of this gospel and the reason why the sabbath is so important.

  1. In the church we observe six months of holy seasons from Advent to Easter and then six months of ordinary time. Today we walk through the threshold into ordinary time. The color for this season is green for the growth that we experience from following Jesus through the story of his life. This summer in our three-year cycle of readings we follow the book of Mark.

Mark is the most primal gospel, the most direct in its message. He uses simple, striking language. He tells short, abrupt stories. Mark’s favorite word is euthus – or “immediately.” Scholars believe that the gospel came into being around the time of the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire. Thousands of Roman mercenaries crushed the uprising. The center of religious life, the temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed.

Mark has a simple message. Although evil seems to have the upper hand everywhere, the tide has turned. God’s kingdom of peace and justice, with its radical reversal of fortune is near. Mark comes to smash our expectations of a military messiah, a king who is simply the mirror image of the Roman Emperor. Instead the sign of God’s kingdom comes in the form of a gentle prophet, a healer, a sage who teaches us a way of rising above overwhelming evil. This messiah, Jesus, transforms the world through his suffering, death and rising again.

  1. Of all the places to begin, it might seem strange to you that the first lesson Jesus teaches in this season of ordinary time concerns the sabbath. In the Book of Exodus God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. Keeping the sabbath, or refraining from work on certain days, comes before murder, adultery and stealing (Ex. 20:1-17). The Book of Exodus describes sabbath as a way of imitating God in our creativity. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth… but rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 2:11). Even during the time of planting or harvest God insists that we keep the sabbath.

The Book of Deuteronomy offers a different rationale for keeping the sabbath. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought you out from there with a mighty hand… therefore the Lord… commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).

In this version the sabbath is a kind of little Exodus. It releases us from toil and work in order to give us a foretaste of the Promised Land. It reminds us that at the heart of our existence God has set us free.[2] But there is more. Sabbath is not just for the head of the household or the hierarchy. “You shall not do any work – you, or your son, or your daughter, your male or female slave.” Even the ox and the donkey, the resident alien, even the slaves deserve this taste of freedom.

In the Bible all creation, even the soil, has a right to sabbath rest. We are fundamentally spiritual beings and require sabbath. It is how we experience and cultivate the deep, abiding goodness of God in the world.[3]

  1. Mark connects two stories to help us understand the Sabbath in our own life. When the religious leaders criticize his disciples for eating grain leftover in a field, Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mk. 2).

This leads into a much more painful encounter. In the synagogue Jesus invites a man with a withered hand to come forward. He asks the religious leaders, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill” (Mk. 3)? These leaders know that saving life on the sabbath is lawful, “But they were silent” (Mk. 3). This both infuriates (orgē) Jesus and leaves him profoundly sad (sollupew) or, “grieved at their hardness of heart.”

Mark only uses this word for anger once.[4] What upsets Jesus is that these religious leaders do not care about the suffering person. For them the man with a withered has no independent existence as a child of God. For them he is only a way to test Jesus. This leads them to conspire against Jesus to utterly destroy him and everything he stands for.

Why is this so bad? What grieves Jesus? Jesus loves the sabbath. He recognizes our need for it and the way that it might transform us. But he also knows that religious practices are not ends in themselves. They are not even primarily standards for determining righteousness. The reason for keeping the sabbath or any other religious practice is to heal the world. If it does not do that, it is not merely a matter of coming up short. In this case the practice comes to be at war with itself.

Observing the sabbath in a way that diminishes or harms other people is, to use an old-fashioned word, desecration. Desecration is a harsh word. It means using a divine gift to thwart God’s purposes.

  1. This week Franklin Graham arrived in town on his “Decision America: California Tour.” Perhaps the newspapers want to stir things up and have not been entirely fair to him. They quote Graham saying that “progressive” is, “just another word for godless.”[5] The Graham website claims that, “Berkeley takes it to a new level. Christianity is not just neglected or ignored. It’s actually abhorred.” The home of the Graduate Theological Union, the town where I was ordained a priest, a is place they say where, “the Bible is pushed aside.”[6]

Perhaps I am wrong to think that these rallies deal in unhelpful stereotypes, that they assume that all Christians agree with Franklin Graham’s politics, or that they set people against each other. But even worse than this they involve a kind of desecration.

In the context of the holy practice of prayer Graham’s Crusade rejects the humanity of GLBTQ+ persons. In the same way that religious leaders ignored the suffering of the man with the withered hand, they treat the sacred relationships of gay people as a tool for advancing their political agenda. Make no mistake the mixture of their self-righteous contempt for God’s children and prayer is desecration. It is using holy gifts to thwart God’s purposes.

My friends, at the heart of this era of wealth and progress lies a yawning emptiness. We see false divisions even between Christian brothers and sisters. We grieve that in prayer Jesus’ name has come to be associated with bigotry, with hatred that denies the humanity of suffering people.

But God has not left us alone. God has not even withheld the Son. We pray that we will not misuse religious practices. But above all we give thanks for these sabbath days. Let us praise God for healing and gratitude, for this chance to repent and rejoice, for the gift of seeing all people and ourselves as God’s beloved children.

[1] John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (NY: Doubleday, 2008) 194.

[2] Almost every part of this sermon is deeply indebted to Liz and Matt Boulton’s Salt, 3 June 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-second-week-after-pentecost

[3] The Bible sets up a sabbath rhythm to our life. It sets aside for special treatment every seventh day, seventh year and even every seventh sabbatical year plus one as a jubilee year (when debts are forgiven and slaves freed). The Latin word “salvus” means health. Salvation is health and it involves keeping the rhythm of sabbath.

[4] Mark D. Davis, “Putting Sabbath in Its Place,” Left Behind and Loving It, 28 May 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com

[5] Elizabeth Dias, “The Evangelical Fight to Win Back California,” The New York Times, 27 May 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/27/us/politics/franklin-graham-evangelicals-california.html

[6] Cicely Corry, “Boldness in Berkeley: Decision California Prompts Christians to Take a Stand,” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 2 June 2018. https://billygraham.org/story/boldness-in-berkeley-decision-california-prompts-christians-to-take-a-stand/

Sunday, May 27
Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Preacher: The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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It is an honor for me to be with you this morning, and to share the Gospel from this pulpit in which so many preachers, much greater than myself, have spoken.

And while I am grateful to Dean Malcolm for the invitation, I have to say that my initial enthusiasm was tempered by the realization that today is Trinity Sunday, the one Sunday in the entire church year that is dedicated to a doctrine. If you asked preachers to list their top 10 favorite Sundays to preach, the vast majority would not include Trinity Sunday in the list. Few preachers get excited about the idea of trying to explain the Trinity. And probably even fewer people who listen to sermons want to hear someone trying to explain the Trinity!

I’d like to share with you just a portion of one such attempt from the sixth century, attributed to a great luminary of the early church, St. Athanasius (who most likely did not write it):

. . . the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of

the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the

Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty

coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father

uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the

Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and

the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also

there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.

Can I get an “Alleluia”? Do you find your soul stirred? Or do you find that your brain is a bit fuzzy? Well, welcome to the world of Christian Trinitarian doctrine. My favorite line of this creed is how its section on the Trinity ends: “He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.” Really? This word formula is the way we are to think about God if we are to be saved? If that’s the case then it seems to me that, to paraphrase St. Paul, we are of all people in the world most to be pitied.

I do not want to suggest that Christian doctrine is not important. But I do want to suggest that doctrinal formulas are not life-giving. They never contain life in themselves. Rather, they point us toward that which is life-giving, that is, they point us toward God. And so I would like to invite you this morning to abandon the idea that Trinity Sunday is dedicated to a doctrine. Instead, I would like to invite you to see this day as dedicated to the mystery of God. For it is in that mystery that life will be found.

This morning’s readings from Isaiah and from John’s Gospel are full of that divine mystery. In the case of Isaiah, we hear about what is essentially a mystical experience that the prophet had when he was serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, and which contained within it God’s prophetic call to Isaiah. It was not a vision that was meant to explain God to Isaiah, but rather to pull Isaiah into the mystery of God in whose presence he suddenly found himself. The mystery of the divine presence filled Isaiah’s heart and mind and soul with that invitation, “Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?”, and elicited Isaiah’s consent to a prophetic vocation: “Here am I, send me!”

John’s Gospel presents the mystery quite differently. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night – a time of day that has an affinity with all things mysterious. He intends to begin a dialogue with Jesus, whom Nicodemus clearly finds mysteriously compelling. And suddenly he finds himself in the midst of a conversation that makes no sense to him – with ideas of being born again, Spirit blowing around like the wind full of unpredictable possibilities, including the possibility of seeing the kingdom of God. His only response is, “How can these things be?” Which is a somewhat polite way of saying, “What in the world are you talking about?” And Jesus says, “What? You’re a teacher of Israel and you don’t get it?” As if what Jesus is saying should be self-evident. I imagine Jesus with something of a wry smile, knowing full well that he is simply pointing Nicodemus toward the mystery of the divine, knowing that Nicodemus won’t get what he’s talking about until he is able to soak in that mystery for a while. And soak Nicodemus does, for later in John’s Gospel we find him helping to entomb the body of the crucified Christ. His initiation by Jesus into the divine mystery didn’t put him off – it drew him further in.

And I’m convinced that this is how the Christian vision of God as Trinity is meant to function for us: not as an intellectual description of who or what God is, but as a kind of cipher meant to draw us into the mystery of a God who refuses to be neatly pinned down and boxed up.

But if the Trinity is a such a cipher, it is of a very unique and particular kind. And, it is a cipher of which Scripture says that we human beings are the image. Which surely deepens the mystery for us because it means that when we contemplate the vision of God as Trinity, we are also contemplating the image in which we ourselves are made. And so deep within the mystery of God, we are meant to encounter the mystery of our own humanity. And this, perhaps, is where the rubber hits the road for us, where the mystery of God begins to matter most: where it shows up in us.

For centuries, Christian theology has focused on how God shows up in the individual human being. Theologians have long been trying to find various trinities within the human person that could be said to constitute the image of God within us. St. Augustine, for example, found that image in human memory, understanding, and will: a trinity of qualities that each person possesses; three qualities that make each individual a bearer of the divine image.

And this individual focus has been valuable, even though Christians have not always been successful at living into the full implications of it. Because this insistence that we are each made in the image of God is fundamentally the theological foundation of the idea of individual

rights, of the dignity and worth of each and every human person which the Western world has long championed, even as we have had trouble actually living it out and really applying it to each and every person. But the great movements of change that have swept the West – movements to liberate people from slavery, movements to bestow civil rights on people of color, movements to empower women and protect children, movements to grant equality to LGBTQ people – all of these movements, where they have intersected with the life of the church, have been able to call upon this vision of each human being as bearer of the divine image as a theological justification and foundation for their movement of liberation. And that has been a very good thing, indeed.

But notice that this idea of each individual made in the image of God does not necessarily require that we work out how that vision shows up in us in a Trinitarian way. And, as the Roman Catholic priest and mystic Richard Rohr has noted, most Christians don’t generally think of the image of God within themselves as a Trinitarian image. Indeed, Rohr says, most Christians are not functionally Trinitarian. We are doctrinally Trinitarian, in the sense that we say we believe that God is Trinity, but it makes no practical difference to most of us. Despite the hope of the Athanasian Creed that we would walk about thinking deeply about God as three in one and one in three, we don’t actually spend time doing that.

But I want to suggest that, if we are to be true to our Christian calling, we need to be thinking about what it means to be functional Trinitarians. We need to notice something about this vision of God as Trinity: that it is essentially a vision in which God is seen to exist as relationship. A vision in which individual elements named as Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally dancing in a state of mutual embrace that somehow mysteriously constitutes the very life of God. It is in this image that we human beings are made, and we need to explore what that means.

Recently, I attended a conference at which Lisa Sharon Harper was the theologian in residence. Lisa comes from the evangelical tradition, and she works to find ways of proclaiming the Gospel as truly good news in the midst of oppressed communities. Part of her journey has been a deep exploration of the Book of Genesis, where we first find that affirmation that we are made in the image of God. In her book, “The Very Good Gospel”, Lisa points us toward another message that is connected to that affirmation: “God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Lisa insists that we cannot hear that we are made in the image of God without also hearing that this is “very good.” But this is not just any sort of goodness.

She notes that in Hebrew, the word translated as “good” is tov – a word that does not so much refer to the goodness of something in itself, “but . . . to the ties between things.” She writes, “In the Hebrew conception of the world, all of creation is connected. The well-being of the whole depends on the well-being of each individual part. The Hebrews’ conception of goodness was different than the Greeks’. The Greeks located perfection in the object itself. A thing or person strove toward perfection. But the Hebrews understood goodness to be located between things. As a result, the original hearers would have understood tov to refer to the goodness of the ties and relationships between things in creation.”

When we put this in the context of the Christian vision of God as Trinity, then we can connect the dots. God is experienced as good, as powerful, as just, as mighty, as compassionate – and all the other adjectives we might use to describe God – because of the eternal relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit — or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. It is the unending divine dance of the three embracing each other as one that leads to the overflowing divine goodness that has brought us – and all of creation – into being.

What an amazing thing it is to think about ourselves as created in this image. We are indeed each, individually, bearers of the image of God, each worthy of dignity, each equal in standing. But it does no good to be a bearer of the image of God until you reach out in relationship toward others. The goodness of humanity as created by God is seen only in the goodness that exists between us. It is impossible to be a “good person” unless one stands in a web of relationship in which goodness is made manifest.

There has perhaps never been a moment in human history when we need more to recover this profound vision that places relationship at the very center of who God is, and of who we are. We live in a time when people are seen to be increasingly disposable. We live in an age when too many people give into a selfishness, a narcissism, that sees the world as existing only to serve their particular needs. We live in a period when our own government has been elected on a platform of selfishness, a platform extolling the supposed virtues of living only for ourselves alone. And others who hold similar platforms around the world have been emboldened, and in some places, have gained power, with slogans like “Brexit” or “Austria for Austrians” or “Italians first”.

Imagine a world full of people who all put themselves first. It is a world in which the poor are ignored, the weak are pushed aside. It is a world where powerful people take all they can take and leave the less powerful to fend for themselves. It is a world where school children are killed, and no one cares. It is a world where people are ground down by war or poverty, and no one cares. It is a world in which people starve, and no one cares. It is a world where everyone lives in their own little silo, never lifting their eyes beyond their smartphone to notice the struggles and the suffering of others. It is a world that is coming into being in our midst. And it will only grow stronger if we do not do something about it.

To be functionally Trinitarian as Christian people is to realize that we cannot live this way. To be functionally Trinitarian is to recognize that the world I have just described is the very definition of hell. Lisa Sharon Harper notes that at the very beginning of creation, Genesis describes the earth as a “formless void” covered in darkness. Written as the people of Israel were emerging from the Babylonian exile, Lisa suggests that these words are meant to describe the world they were emerging from: a dark world of “misery, destruction, death, ignorance, wickedness, and sorrow.” In the midst of this darkness shines the light of the creating, Trinitarian God. Into this darkness flows the abundant goodness of the three in one. God is described as the antidote to the darkness, the hell, of a world that has abandoned the image in which it is made by ceasing to bring it to life in the in-between spaces.

Jesus came to show us how to attend to the spaces between us to bring the image of God – the goodness of God – to life. That is the kingdom of God that Nicodemus longed to see but which at first seemed so baffling. We, Jesus’ followers, are the people charged with seeing this deep truth of the Trinitarian God. It is up to us to pour out the goodness of God that is in us in the relationships we create, in order that goodness may come into the world. It is up to us to see and to proclaim that we are not 6 billion people leading individual lives on this plant, but that we are one human family, living in intimate embrace. When we are able to live into this calling, to live as functional rather than theoretical Trinitarians, then, like Isaiah, we shall see the wonder of God opened before us. And, like Nicodemus, we will arrive at the tomb of the world as bearers of Resurrection light, the power of God to push back the world’s darkness.

No, the Trinity is not just a doctrine – it is a way of life, it is the very spiritual DNA of creation. If we wish to truly live, we must live according to that DNA. To do otherwise is to distort our own nature, and to distort our relationship with God. The kingdom of God is within us – but that will not matter one bit unless we have the courage to bring it to life between us.

Sunday, May 20
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

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